We bring the curtain down on 2016 with friends in fromage recalling the memorable cheeses that crossed their palates during the past 12 months. In alphabetical order, here is a baker’s dozen of outstanding cheeses of the year—plus a special mention for the 2016 Canadian Cheese of the Year and a word of advice for producers of non-dairy cheeses.
Check out the tasting notes and make up your shopping list for the next visit to a cheese shop or, better yet, right to the cheesemaker.
Bibi is a delicious, oozy, creamy, finger-licking good Camembert-style cheese made by Guy Dessureault and Lise Mercier at Fromagerie Domaine Féodale. This cheese ranks in my very selective OMG! category. It is best enjoyed and savoured with a very special person. Make the experience part of a road trip as you will have to drive to the fromagerie, halfway between Montréal and Trois-Rivières, to buy it. It is a regional treasure! The warm hospitality of the two cheesemakers and their staff, at their recently expanded facility north of Berthierville, will make you feel like you are part of their family.
Blossom’s Blue is an aged blue cheese made entirely with the unpasteurised, organic milk of Moonstruck Dairy’s own Jersey herd. Its texture is firm and dense, yet slightly crumbly. It is a touch sweet with the rich flavor of Jersey milk and a has great balance of salt and strength.
Belgium-born Didier Laurent is cheesemaker and owner at Fromagerie Au Fond Des Bois located, as its French name implies, “deep in the woods” near Rexton, New Brunswick, on 267 acres of land bordered by the St. Nicholas River. All of Didier’s cheeses are made exclusively from the milk of his own goats with no additives. The 98 dairy goats raised in his goat house include Nubians, Alpines and Saanens. This is a goat’s milk bloomy-rind cheese that could easily pass for cow’s milk cheese with a soft and flowing texture with a rich, salty, earthy flavour. I love this cheese with Pinot Noir or a bubbly.
This cheese is a relatively new blue from urban cheesemaker Lyndell Findlay. She is one of the few sheep’s milk cheese producers in Nova Scotia. She purchases her milk from a farm in Stewiack and makes the cheese at her facility on Robie Street in Halifax’s North End—the first of its kind here in the city. The cheese reminds me of a mild Roquefort with a creamy, chalky texture, delicate bite and slightly sweet finish. Perfect for the “blue-fearful” cheeselover, it’s very accessible. It pairs really well with our local, aromatic whites like Tidal Bay, especially those with a touch of balanced sweetness.
We don’t see much water buffalo milk cheese in Nova Scotia, so this is a real treat. It’s made without rennet (perhaps coagulated with an acid instead) so it is suitable for strict vegetarians. It’s a semi-soft soft, washed rind cheese with a friendlier “fetor” than some washed-rinds! At peak ripeness it is totally decadent, rich and oozy with hazelnut and salted butter notes. Superb with a full, fruity white wine or Saison (beer).
It’s a rarity, but there might be some of the 2016 stock left if folks move fast. Available at Gunn’s Hill, it’s a coveted 18-month batch, released only in December of every year. Ripened for an additional 10 months, Five Brothers Reserve becomes more rustic in appearance, almost “leathered,” with its rind developing shades of darker brown. The “eyes” in the paste are more pronounced and tiny crystals are present, a result of the aging process, a sign of a good cheese! Enjoy its fruity and malty aroma on the nose. This cheese is complex while keeping its smooth and creamy texture and finishes with a subtle bite. Waves of scotch-y, malt-y and caramel flavours ride over your palate and linger for a long time.
Ile-aux-Grues, 2-year cheddar – Société Coopérative Agricole de l’Île-aux-Grues, Québec
At home, my personal favourite, everyday go-to cheese continues to be Ile-aux-Grues 2-year cheddar. I am never without at least 10 kg on hand. Enough flavor for character, not too much to overpower cooking or more sensitive palates. Perfect for grilled cheese, baguette and cheese, plowman’s lunch, omelettes, host gifts and drop-in entertaining.
The Tuijtels family up in Cherryville, B.C., has been producing this and many other cheeses according to their generations-old family recipes. They prefer to focus on high quality milk, and not an overly large production. This gives the Maasdammer its deep, buttery, sweet taste. Great as a base for fondue and with a crisp dry Reisling.
Another rarity to find in stores. We featured it in Savvy Cool Curds for November and it was nothing short of knock-your-socks-off yummy! Nevis comes in a larger format wheel as a washed rind cow milk cheese. A dark gold basket weave exterior compliments a golden straw interior which is cheddar-like in texture. Nevis is all buttery goodness with a tangy finish.
From Little Qualicum Cheeseworks in Parksville on Vancouver Island, Rathtrevor has quickly become one of our favorite local cheeses. Made with the unpasturised milk from their own mixed herd of Ayrshire, Brown and Canadienne cows, this Alpine-style cheese is nutty, sweet and delicious. Great on its own with a glass of wine, but also a fantastic melter.
This is a hard, 18-month, sheep’s milk Gouda made by Jeff McCourt at Glasgow Glen. Jeff bought Martina TerBeek’s business “The Cheeselady” in 2012 which was one of PEI’s only artisanal cheese business operating for 25 years specializing in Gouda. The farm is a 12-acre lot, overlooking Hunter River and Rustico Bay. This cheese has a parmesan-like flavour and texture—sharp, buttery, herbaceous, nutty,and a touch crumbly. Perfect with a hearty glass of Red.
As Canadians continue to re-examine their diets and understand that diet is a key measure in controlling health, there is rising interest in alternatives to traditional cheese.
I tried cheeses from Fauxmagerie Zengarry (Glengarry, Ontario) and Nuts For Cheese (London, Ontario) and while several of these are very good (Zengary Gruyere with cumin and Nuts for Cheese Chipotle Cheddar and Super Blue) they are not to be compared to traditional cheeses. My advice to these cheesemakers is to learn from the traditional techniques, embrace their creations for what they are, because they are good, but avoid the copy of traditional names and the implied similarity of flavor and texture experience. I can see lots of people finding this interesting.
For most of 2016—until the last of it disappeared in a shrimp bake a few days ago, there was always a kilo or more of Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar in the cheese fridge at CheeseLover.ca.
Crowned Cheese of the Year in the 2016 Canadian Cheese Awards, the old-style cheddar, made according to an Orkney island recipe, is truly a Canadian classic. Now generally available across Canada, it’s a must-try cheese, if you’ve not sampled it already.
A highlight of 2016 for us was a visit to Cows Creamery in Charlottetown, P.E. I., home of Avonlea, several other outstanding cheeses, fabulous ice cream and awesome chocolates—not to mention a huge selection of T-shirts featuring cows in many different settings.
The warm hospitality shown to us by Scott Linkletter, proprietor, and Armand Bernard, cheesemaker, only made the visit more memorable.
Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar made by Cows Creamery in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, was proclaimed Cheese of the Year at the conclusion of the 2016 Canadian Cheese Awards in Montréal on Thursday.
Awards were also presented to 31 category winners during the Awards Ceremony at glittering Time Supper Club to bring to a climax the biennial cheese judging and competition that is open to all milks—cow, goat, sheep and water Buffalo—used in cheesemaking in Canada.
Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar was also honoured as Best Aged Cheddar (aged more than 18 months).
Appletree Smoked Cheddar, also made by Cows Creamery, also won big :
BEST ATLANTIC CANADA CHEESE – MEILLEUR FROMAGE DES PROVINCES ATLANTIQUES
· Appletree Smoked Cheddar – Cows Creamery, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island
The Canadian Cheese Awards is the first cheese competition in Canada open to all milks used in cheese making – cow, goat, sheep and water buffalo – with only pure natural cheese accepted for judging. That means with no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, and no modified milk ingredients.
Le Concours des fromages fins canadiens est le premier et le plus grand au Canada ouvert à tous les fromages produits au Canada à partir du lait pur de vaches, de chèvres, de brebis ou de bufflonnes canadiennes – sans colorant artificiel, parfum, agent de conservation ni substance laitière modifiée.
The 81 finalists in the 2015 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix have been announced. The prestigious biennial competition sponsored by Dairy Farmers of Canada saw 268 cheeses submitted in 27 categories.
The winners will be announced April 22 at a Gala of Champions in Toronto.
Quebec, home to the majority of Canada’s cheese producers, dominates the list of 81 finalists with 31 cheeses. Naturally, some of the larger producers have the most finalists: Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser, 7 finalists, Sylvan Star Cheese, 6, and Natural Pastures Cheese Company and Fromagerie du Presbytère, 5.
The competition, open to cheese made exclusively with Canadian cow’s milk, first started in 1998 to promote achievement and innovation in cheesemaking and to spotlight the quality of Canadian milk.
Canadian cheesemakers won 30 ribbons in the 2013 American Cheese Society Judging & Competition in Madison, Wisconsin, in early August, competing against 1,794 cheeses submitted by 257 producers in the Americas—the largest competition in the history of the ACS.
Twenty-three of the 30 ribbons were won by 10 Québec cheesemakers, four being first-place ribbons, two for Agropur Fine Cheese and one each for Fromagerie Fritz Kaiser, represented by Fromages CDA, and La Moutonnière.
Two Ontario producers, Mariposa Dairy, represented by Finica Food Specialties, and Quality Cheese, won first-place ribbons as well.
Best of Show was won by Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont with the Winnimere, an extraordinary take on the French mountain classic Vachering Mont d’Or. Made with raw milk from the farm’s Ayrshire cows, Winnimere is wrapped in cambium cut from the spruce trees on the farm and washed in a beer from a neighbouring brewery. It’s available only January through June.
Here are the Canadian winners:
OPEN CATEGORY – FRESH UNRIPENED CHEESES – MADE FROM SHEEP’S MILK OR MIXED MILKS
Prince Edward Island’s award-winning cheesemaker, Armand Bernard of Cows Creamery, is hosting “Meet the Cheesemaker” sampling events in Toronto and Waterloo on March 8 to 11. Bernard is the artisan behind award-winning cheeses like Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar and Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar.
Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar is produced according to a traditional recipe from the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. In 2011, it won its category the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix and the American Cheese Society Competition.
Cows Creamery Extra Old Cheddar is aged for two years and is made from Prince Edward Island cow’s milk. In 2009, it won its class in the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.
When and Where:
Thursday,March 8: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Loblaws at Maple Leaf Gardens, 60 Carlton Street, Toronto.
Friday, March 9: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Nature’s Emporium, 16655 Yonge Street, Newmarket, Ontario.
Saturday, March 10: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Vincenzo’s, 150 Caroline Street South, Waterloo, Ontario.
Sunday,March 11: 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. at McEwan, 38 Karl Fraser Road, Toronto.
Canadian cheesemakers did remarkably well at the 2011 American Cheese Society Conference and Competition in Montreal this week, winning close to one-quarter of ribbons up for grabs. Best of all, Mariposa Dairy with Lindsay Bandaged Goat Cheddar and Fromagerie du Presbytère with Louis d’Or won Best of Show honors.
D. AMERICAN MADE / INTERNATIONAL STYLE
Cheeses modeled after or based on recipes for established European or other international types or styles – Beaufort, Abondance, Gruyère, Juustoleipa, Caerphilly, English Territorials, Leyden, Butterkäse, Monastery styles, etc.
3rd Cabot Creamery Cooperative, MA
Cabot Unsalted Butter
S. CHEESE SPREADS
Spreads produced by grinding and mixing, without the aid of heat and/or emulsifying salts, one or more natural cheeses
SA: Open Category made from all milks – Spreads with flavors using a base with moisture higher than 44%
3rd Appleton Creamery, ME
Chevre Wrapped in Brandied Grape Leaf
V. WASHED RIND CHEESES
Cheeses with a rind or crust washed in salted brine, whey, beer, wine, other alcohol, or grape lees that exhibit an obvious, smeared or sticky rind and/or crust – Limburger, Pont l’Evêque, Chimay, Raclette, Swiss Appenzeller or Vignerons-style, etc.
Additionally, in an unprecedented awards sweep, Louis d’Or was named champion in three different categories:
On top of that, their fabulous Bleu d’Élizabeth was selected champion in the blue-cheese category!
Clearly, Jean Morin was the happiest and proudest cheese producer in Canada last night as the Gala of Champions unfolded at Palais Royale in Toronto, scene of a lavish awards ceremony cum cheese-tasting organized by Dairy Farmers of Canada, sponsors of the Canadian Cheese Grand Prix.
In his acceptance speech, Jean was quick to give credit to his brother, Dominic, who looks after their herd of cows, and to Dany Grimard, who runs the make room in the former rectory that serves as the creamery across the street from their farm in Sainte-Élizabeth-de-Warwick two hours east of Montréal.
Jean and Dominic are fourth-generation dairy farmers who have found amazing success as first-generation cheese producers in a few short years. What’s the secret of their success?
“Happy, healthy cows,” Jean says. “It all starts with the milk, and the care we show the cheese as we make it.”
Appropriately, smiling cows adorned the tie Jean wore to the awards gala.
Phil Bélanger, chair of the 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix Jury and president of the New Brunswick Chapter of La Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs, had this to say about Louis d’Or:
“The milky richness of this cheese is a tribute to the organic milk with which it is made. The cheese has a smooth texture, warm nutty and floral notes in aroma and taste. Inspired by the traditional cheesemaking know-how from the Jura region, the cheesemaker created an amazing cheese.”
Louis d’Or is truly a magnificent cheese, with fine, complex flavours, eloquently expressed after nine months of ripening. The Louis d’Or cheese gets its name from the Louis d’Or Farm, which produces the organic milk used to make it. The name of the cheese also refers to the French currency of the same name used under the reign of Louis XIII in 1640.
The first opportunity for the public to taste Grand Prix winners in one place—and meet the makers such as Jean Morin—will be at The Great Canadian Cheese Festival on June 4-5 in Picton in Prince Edward County, Ontario’s newest wine region and fastest-growing culinary destination.
At the Festival, cheese expert and author Gurth Pretty, one of the Grand Prix judges, will lead a tutored tasting on cheese of Western Canada. Grand Prix champion Margaret Peters-Morris will conduct a demonstration of cheesemaking at home.
Here is the complete list of 2011 Canadian Cheese Grand Prix winners, with asterisks indicating those already committed to taking part in The Great Canadian Cheese Festival:
The Canadian Cheese Grand Prix is a competition sponsored and hosted by Dairy Farmers of Canada, celebrating the high quality and proud tradition of Canadian cheese made from 100% Canadian cow’s milk.
For the 2011 competition, a record-breaking total of 203 cheeses from six provinces was submitted for judging in the competition.
A panel of Canada’s top cheese experts spent two days in Montréal rigorously tasting and evaluating the best cow-milk cheeses this country has to offer as they narrowed the field down to 51 cheeses in 17 categories.
Georgs Kolesnikovs, cheesehead-in-chief at CheeseLover.ca, couldn’t believe his ears when Jean Morin mentioned him and the upcoming Great Canadian Cheese Festival in his acceptance remarks.
Today’s clip shows how Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar is made at Cows Creamery in Prince Edward Island under the guidance of head cheesemaker Armand Bernard.
Famously, Cows Creamery has been making ice cream since 1983. In 2006, Cows expanded into cheddar cheese after Cows owner Scott Linkletter visited the Orkney Islands in Northern Scotland where he was taken by the local cheese. A Scottish cheesemaker provided the recipe which became the foundation for Cows signature cheese, Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar. While developing the recipe for the clothbound cheddar, Linkletter and cheesemaker Bernard created a second cheese, PEI Cheddar.
Cows makes Avonlea Clothbound Cheddar in 10 kilograms wheels, and ages it for 12 months. The award-winning cheese gets the “clothbound” name from the traditional cheddar-making technique of wrapping it in cheese cloth, a method that originated in Somerset, England (the town of Cheddar, where cheddar cheese gets its name from is in Somerset). The name Avonlea comes from link between Prince Edward Island and Anne of Green Gables.